So, a little over five years ago, my sister Becky and I were chatting about how much we love food. We love to dine at new places. We love to nosh on goodies at festivals. We love to entertain. We love to try new foods. We love to find foodie gems as we travel. We appreciate fresh ingredients, creative dishes and upscale atmospheres.We like to shop for gourmet items and gadgets. And of course, we love to eat.
When we decided to join foodie forces and launch a food blog, we'd just gotten together for a gourmet cooking party at her place. We really had no plan. It was just a spur-of-the-moment, "Let's start a blog" and we did it. We both already had blogs, so that part wasn't new. But it was a new adventure together with a specific focus and was just meant to be a hobby - a place to share our foodie love.
As a web designer she'd done work for a big worldwide company that produces luxury kitchen accessories and gadgets. She was single. She was traveling all over the world and eating exotic foods in a myriad of places. She would elect to work contract jobs in the city sometimes just so she could try new restaurants for lunch or dinner. She'd taken some informal gourmet cooking classes. She'd made a lot of friends over the years that she'd meet and dine with at various places.
I was the married, harried mom of a houseful of noisy, busy boys. All boys - ages 6, 7, 10, 12 and 17. At home, there was a short list of about 4 or 5 meals everyone would eat - chicken nuggets, hot dogs, salmon and pizza. Their appetites were picky and I was going with the flow of what aided keeping me sane. My dining adventures were more along the lines of occasional date nights at local spots we'd been to many times, Tastefully Simple or Pampered Chef parties at the homes of other PTA moms and potlucks with the ladies from the morning bowling league. I learned about new restaurants, foodie events and trends in the foodie world in doing research for Foods and Entertainment articles I'd write for a regional newspaper I freelanced for. I made it into the city probably less than a dozen times a year - and most of those were for Cubs games or school field trips to museums and landmarks.
So, we were in two different places with two very different perspectives but with a similar goal. And we had in common that we grew up on the same food from a mom who made economical meals from scratch to feed a family of five. Our usual rotation of homemade meals usually consisted of spaghetti, chicken and dumplings, roast, salmon patties, chicken kiev, ham and navy beans, potato soup, sirloin patties, tacos and a few others - maybe fried chicken or meatloaf or pork chops. A frequent lunch was a fried bologna sandwich. Iced tea was the beverage that was always served with meals. We didn't have Doritos or fruit snacks. We'd tide ourselves over on white bread with butter and sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top or saltines with butter spread on top or cheese and crackers. There was always a jar in the fridge of carrot slices that we'd munch on with celery and slices of green pepper. Dessert was sometimes a half of a cantaloupe used as a bowl with a scoop of iced milk inside it. We almost never had fast food. We rarely dined out. Our treat each week was pizza night on Saturdays when we'd snuggle together and watch "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" along with a family size cheese, sausage, mushroom and green pepper pizza from Vessuvio's and a 2-liter of Pepsi.
Our tastes have evolved quite a bit since those days. We discovered new foods that we just hadn't had before. My dad didn't like fish, so I really never had seafood until my teens. For some reason I don't remember us ever having rice. I think I was a teenager the first time I had Chinese food. We didn't realize as kids there was more to Italian food than spaghetti and lasagna or more to Mexican food than tacos. We did have a little joint around the corner that served gyros and we'd get those once in a while. I remember when my aunt's friend visited from Switzerland and brought us chocolates. It was an epiphany to a 12-year-old that there was more out there than Hershey bars.
Since we started the blog our interest in, appreciation of and love for food and those who prepare it has grown by miles. We started documenting a good amount of our meals. I think I may have still been using a flip phone then, so photos were taken with my Nikon camera and then downloaded to the computer and then added to the blog and Facebook. It wasn't yet in real time.
When I look back at our first week of posts, one was an introduction paragraph with (gasp!) no picture. Another post was a shot of my niece eating a piece of cake (she's a eat-the-frosting-only kind of girl.) Another was a very detailed and photograph account of a visit to an eatery we adored in St. Charles called RX Cafe that has sadly since closed. Another included some shots of Ribfest (still an awesome place for a foodie to visit, but now I don't just taste, but spend time chatting with the barbecue masters and watching them and hearing their secrets.) And one was on the farmer's market in my town, which only lasted a couple seasons. Fortunately, every surrounding town has one and if I drive a little further into Indiana I can attend ones that also have food vendors and wine tasting and entertainment.
Since starting the blog, it's become more than a hobby. It's a part time gig that brings invitations to be among the first to get a sneak preview to new restaurants, to check out new seasonal menus or to attend exclusive foodie events in sought-after event spaces with big names in the food scene and other celebrities. It's led to getting to be part of a fun network of food bloggers and writers in and around the city. It's led to trips. It's led to me being the official blogger at a national conference for an international brand. It's led to me being a guest speaker at a national conference. It's led to being a brand influencer for large companies. It's led to some paid sponsored posts and some income from developing recipes. It's led to managing social media for restaurants. Our initial subscribers of a few family and friends has grown to tens of thousands of followers from all over the world. It's been quite a ride.
Becky, the single foodie, has since gotten married and had a little boy, then a little girl. In fact this past December as we tried to squeeze in one last foodie sister adventure before she became a mom again, she called before heading out the door saying, "I'm having some contractions, I wonder if I should still go." She did. We met in Chicago at the Atwood in the Hotel Burnham, enjoyed a fabulous meal and by early evening she was at the hospital. By the end of the night, her little girl had arrived. As her life has become busier at home, she's been less active, but no less enthusiastic. Our niece, who lives in the West Loop has joined us on many food adventures and done some blog posts. She's gotten married since we started the blog, with a destination wedding in California wine country. For me, my kids are getting bigger - this fall I'll have two in junior high and two in high school. I'm able to spend more time at foodie events and am able to visit more restaurants. And one of the boys, who is a very adventurous eater is often my companion in trying out new places. I've since become active on Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest. It's been a fun five years and my plan is for it to grow even more and continue to share and savor with all those who care to tag along. Thanks for following! ~Carrie
P.S. Keep an eye on our social media channels this week for some giveaways as we celebrate!